By Saleh Al-Ben Saleh, Strategic Account Manager, Emerson
A while ago, I came across a discussion about the optimal way to capture strategic customers in a customer relationship management (CRM) tool in a way that enables effective, efficient account planning using account planning applications or tools.
As a SAM, you may be thinking, “This sounds like a no-brainer.” Each customer gets a single CRM record and thus – since all the major account-planning tools link to and mirror the company’s CRM on a one-to-one basis – one account plan. If your customer is relatively small, this is probably the correct approach. But what if you are dealing instead with a massive, intricately complicated account? Moving forward, I will refer to such an account as a “complex mega-strategic account.”
If you are a SAM assigned to a complex mega-strategic account, you will be targeting different levels across multiple geographies and lines of business at your customer. In my experience as a SAM covering just such a mega-account, it is impossible to create an account plan that encompasses the varied, disparate goals, strategic drivers and buying behaviors housed within such a large, diverse customer.
Traditionally, you would have two options for tackling this problem:
(1) Create a single CRM record for the entire strategic account, yielding one gigantic account plan to cover this hydra-headed customer.
(2) Create a separate CRM record for each entity within the mega-customer, yielding dozens or even hundreds of separate account plans.
I have chosen to do neither, devising instead a third option which resides between these two options. I have struggled to devise a catchy, all-encompassing term for this option, so I will refer to it moving forward as the “Break & Glue.”
In this piece, you will learn:
- My definition of a complex mega-account
- Why the traditional way of representing customers of this complexity in CRM is not conducive to account planning tools
- What the “Break & Glue” concept entails
- A methodology for executing the “Break & Glue”
- My recommendations for introducing this best practice into your company
The complex mega-strategic account
So what is a complex mega-strategic account? This is a client that has several business lines, each of which has operations worldwide – a company like Procter & Gamble, Exxon Mobil, PepsiCo…you get the idea.
Take as an example a company operating in my own field: Chevron. Chevron has lines of business for oil and gas upstream, renewables, chemicals and more. Each of these business units is effectively an account unto itself. Drilling down into just the upstream line of business, Chevron has different types of operations in North America, Africa, the Middle East and many other far-flung regions. Each of these entities can and does function as an autonomous entity, with its own strategic drivers, buying behaviors, delegations of authority and more – and that’s just for one business unit of this massively complex company.
Figure 1 shows a generic – and drastically simplified – organizational chart for one complex mega-strategic account. As you can see, a complex mega-strategic account may include an almost limitless combination of geographies, functional areas and lines of business, all distributed over several organizational levels. Some of these units will share similar traits – but many will not. So what’s the optimal way for a SAM to conceptualize his or her customer?
A note on account planning tools
I realize that some people reading this may wonder why they even need an account planning tool when all the information they need about their customer resides in their CRM platform. There are many articles that explain why CRM is insufficient for account planning, but here is my take. While the CRM is designed to enable the work of the sales and account management team by recording pertinent information about the customer, I think of it mainly as a bridge to the account planning tool, where the best SAMs live and breathe. And since pretty much all strategic account planning tools work in a similar way – by linking each CRM record to a corresponding entry in the account planning tool – the way that the SAM chooses to record his or her customer in CRM has enormous implications on how he or she will conduct account planning for this customer. This is the crux of the article: to reveal what I believe to be the optimal way to organize the customer in CRM with a goal of getting the most from our strategic account planning tools.
Options for capturing your complex mega-strategic account in CRM
When faced with a complex mega-strategic account similar to the one depicted in Figure 1, SAMs have traditionally used one of two methods for covering their customer in CRM.
Standard Option #1: Map the entire organization into one account as shown in Figure 2.
Pros: This is the simplest solution requiring the lowest upfront effort. It will yield an easy-to-remember, go-to place for this customer.
Cons: You will end up with a massive, blended account, which will make it nearly impossible to create a detailed, actionable account plan.
Standard Option #2: Consider every entity at each level as a separate account as shown in Figure 3.
Pros: You will capture the account in tremendous detail.
Cons: You will focus your account team’s efforts on the low-level customer vision and individuals who lack decision-making power – at the expense of the power players, who drive the customer’s true strategic vision. Additionally, you will burden your SAM team with an excess of customer information, preventing them from focusing on and documenting what’s really important. This will lead to less valuable information and inhibit the sharing of insights among SAM teams.
Option #3: Analyze the account to identify the smallest organizational parts that operate as independent entities and map them accordingly in your CRM, aka “Break & Glue.”
Pros: You can cover multiple areas of the customer without having to sacrifice the granular detail that’s so critical to account planning.
Cons: It requires more upfront work.
In case it isn’t obvious, I consider “Break & Glue” the ideal process for covering a complex mega-strategic account. In the sections that follow, I will offer a methodology you can use to apply this to your complex mega-strategic accounts.
The “Break & Glue” process for complex mega-strategic accounts
For complex mega-strategic accounts, I recommend a two-phase process for visualizing the optimal customer structure before importing data into CRM.
Phase 1: Break (apart) the account
- Analyze the account. In this step, you map the client’s structure without relying on any interpretation or extrapolation from the SAM. This is Account Mapping 101. You should expect to wind up with something similar to the organizational chart depicted in Figure 1.
- Break apart the client structure. Your goal is to break apart the account into its constituent parts according to a set of guidelines shown in Figure 5. This will guide you toward the optimal CRM record(s) and, eventually, to efficient, effective account planning.
- Capture this structure in your CRM. It will then be automatically mirrored in your account planning tool.
Phase 2: Glue the account (into CRM)
- Define/create the client’s corporate account in the CRM. Your CRM system may already have a record representing the corporate level of the complex mega-strategic account. If not, it is wise to create one. Map/link the defined accounts to this single corporate account in the CRM. This step will complete the mapping of the complex organization in the CRM.
- Start building your strategic account plans using your planning tool for each “account.” This should include both the “parent” (i.e., corporate) and “child” (i.e., the independent identities you’ve identified) accounts.
The main drawback of this approach is that it requires a lot of upfront work. It may take a few tries to nail the right structure, but the result will be more robust and actionable account plans than previously possible using the traditional approaches outlined above.
Finding the optimum size by breaking apart the complex structure
We agreed that we need to break your account into smaller parts/clusters, each of which will be represented by an individual CRM record. Each cluster may consist of one or more physical assets or teams, and this is maybe the most important thing to remember: We are searching for the smallest parts of the organization that behave autonomously. If you break the account into units that are too big, your entities will contain within them more than one sub-entity operating independently and having its own business drivers and decision makers. If you make your units too small, you will be focusing attention on stakeholder and business drivers that aren’t truly strategic to your customer.
To define the optimum size of each unit, I recommend asking five critical questions as shown in Figure 5.
Every customer and company situation is different, so you will have to arrive at your own process for determining the ideal clusters within your complex mega-strategic account. The process is more art than a science. In my experience, this exercise usually yields a series of units sitting at the director or department level as the optimum level for a single CRM record. But what if you find the optimal point is at the VP level or business-line CEO level? While this doesn’t necessarily indicate a flaw in your process, I would suggest that you stress test your assumptions and recheck your work. After confirming your conclusions, move forward and reflect this group under a single CRM record.
With this preparatory work complete, you can begin the hard work of deeply understanding your customer. After you have created your parent and child CRM records for the complex mega-strategic account, you will have an account planning tool that automatically captures this critical information. You can then use the account planning tool to paint a robust, beautiful picture of the strategic account by adding:
- Internal structure
- Key stakeholders
- Spending behavior
- Business model, business drivers/initiatives
- Value chain (suppliers, partners and key customers)
- Ongoing and potential business
It is vital to create and share actionable account plans that reflect the customer’s mindset and business drivers. These will determine all future interactions with the customer. By illustrating all this relevant information and progress with customers, the account planning tool simplifies the SAM’s performance monitoring and improves decision making. Since the CRM is always linked to the planning tool, any critical sales activity will be mirrored from the CRM into the planning tool, enriching the picture with more vivid colors and details with little effort from the SAM.
Introducing this new process at your company
So you’re a SAM covering a complex mega-strategic account, and you want to implement the “Break and Glue” approach. You can expect to encounter resistance, so here are a few pieces of advice to make the process go smoothly.
Explain the “why.” Before stepping in, all team members need to understand the rationale and, most importantly, the benefit of this journey. To be successful, you need your sales team to be onboard.
Take it one step at a time. Create a plan in advance to break your complex mega-strategic account into smaller accounts. Then you can add those smaller accounts in the CRM one by one before finally linking them to the corporate parent account.
Populate. As you shape the complex mega-strategic account and build it piece by piece in the CRM, make sure all team members make their work trackable.
Refer to the organizational chart and account plan whenever possible. Your team members will react better if they understand the relationship between any issue and existing information about the client’s business drivers, initiatives and stakeholders.
Correctly place contacts and opportunities. For each identified, independent piece of the complex mega-strategic account, place contacts, leads and opportunities in the correct CRM account. You may find yourself moving some misplaced data from one CRM account to another. This action is essential to creating a functioning account plan.
Create a CRM parent record for the corporate level. It is always wise to create a CRM record reflecting the customer’s CRM record reflecting the customer’s corporate level:
- You will capture the contacts, opportunities and leads relating to the customer’s corporate level.
- It will allow the SAM to do high-level account planning and make it easier to present the corporate account plan to internal management.
- CRM’s analytics capabilities will be able to consolidate data from CRM “child” records to the “parent” (corporate) level. This will eliminate manual work while also providing live analytics to support discussion and decision making.
At the end of 2017, roughly 60,000 multinational companies operated worldwide, among which 2,000 controlled 65 per- cent of global market capitalization. These companies own or control nearly half a million subsidiary companies, each likely having multiple business units operating in various geographies. These companies alone generated roughly $9.5 trillion, or roughly half of the global economy. Using simple math, it is highly likely that any SAM reading this article already takes care of one or several pieces of these giant clients.
By applying the practice described here for Breaking & Gluing complex
mega-strategic accounts in CRM, I humbly believe this may revolutionize how many organizations manage their complex mega-strategic accounts.
I am a big believer in the concept of TUFA, put forward by Performance Methods, Inc., which stands for Them, Us, Fit, Action. In my mind, the “Break and Glue” exercise will guide you to better understand and plan your complex corporate level. Other CRM records will act as child accounts reflecting the clusters you have identified as explained earlier in this article. There are three main reasons for creating a mega-strategic account and thus improve your ability to coach your global sales team for better results – a great outcome indeed.
Saleh Al-Ben Saleh is a strategic account manager for Emerson. He is also a graduate of SAMA’s Certified Strategic Account Manager (CSAM) program. You can find him on LinkedIn here.
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